Sunday, 12 August 2018

Orpington parkrun

Orpington is a town in the London Borough of Bromley with a population of about 15,000 people. Up until 1965 it was part of the adjacent county of Kent, and is still often referred to as Orpington, Kent. The area was once occupied by the Romans and the remains of Crofton Roman Villa, which was at the centre of a farming estate, have been protected and can be visited.

The first recorded name of Orpington was as 'Orpedingtune' in 1038, it remained a small farming village until the railways came and made commuting into Central London possible, which ultimately lead to it growing into the town we see today.

goddington park

As an interesting note, the All Saints Church churchyard has a burial area called Canadian Corner. This contains a war memorial and is unique in the UK for being laid out on the style of the French and Belgian First World War cemeteries. Worth a visit, I think.

Over the years, Orpington had a number of manors, and one of these was Goddington. This manor was first recorded during the 13th century. It was owned by Simon de Godyngton whose family held the Manor of Great Chart with the family home a Godinton, near Ashford.

orpington parkrun start

The manor at Goddington was once large enough to cover areas beyond Orpington. In 1893 Goddington House was built and this still stands, but was converted into flats during the 1930s. It has now been renamed Goddington Manor - I tried to get to it to take a photo but it is behind a locked gate.

Part of the grounds of the estate now form Goddington Park which is mostly open grass with some clusters of trees. Football and rugby pitches are laid out, and there are a couple of children's playgrounds. On 15 September 2012 it became home to Orpington parkrun, and that was the date of my only other visit to this venue. You can read my original blog here - Orpington parkrun event 1.

beware bollards - three of them

I decided to pop back down to the venue purely for the purpose of writing this updated blog post. So, I drove over and parked in the on-site car park, which is free-of-charge. As I was early I sat and watch plenty of dog walkers come and go while I waited. As I mentioned above, there is a railway line, and this stops at Orpington Station, which is roughly 2km to the west of the park.

As parkrun o'clock drew closer, I headed across to the meeting point, which, if you are in the car park, is a few hundred metres across the open grass area in front of you at the Orpington Football Club pavillion. This building has toilets and refreshments are available post-run. The fence around the pavillion is perfectly suitable for locking up your bike if you have cycled over.

goddington park

The run starts at the pavillion and takes place over a two-and-three-quarter-lap clockwise course. It's mostly on grass/dirt paths (approx 3.5km) and the rest is tarmac. I would stick on trail or mixed terrain shoes in the winter, but when it's dry, road shoes are just fine. It's not totally flat, but to describe it as undulating would be unkind.

From the start, which is lovely and wide, the participants head towards the eastern end of the park on grass and can enjoy the pleasant vista across the park as they head ever-so-gently downhill. Those with an especially keen eye may spot the tiny glimpse of the olde english, timber framed front of Goddington House through the trees at the far end.

through the trees

After fiddling around a few corners near the car park, the course changes to tarmac and follows a tree lined path to the north. Be very careful on this path as it contains three posts (one after another, not across the path) which are set in the very centre of the path - they are marked with warning signs, but on the first lap when things are congested it would still be pretty easy to run into one of them.

At the end of the path, the route turns and heads along the park's northern border where it rejoins the grass. At the northern tip of the course the surface underfoot changes and features a large number of tree roots as the course proceeds along a line of trees. This is over pretty soon and the next turning features another line of trees, but with much fewer tree roots.

cutting through to the rugby field

The course has now done almost a full loop of this section of the park, and as the pavillion comes back into view, the route swings through a short single file section which leads onto an area of marked rugby pitches. A three-quarter loop of this field and back into the main open area brings the full lap to an end. This is full lap is repeated once more in the same way.

On the third lap, instead of swinging through the single file section, the participants simply carry on towards the pavillion where the finish funnel and the majority of the volunteers will be awaiting their arrival. Barcode scanning takes place at the finish, and as I mentioned earlier, refreshments are available in the pavillion.

the rugby field

I recorded the course using my Garmin and you can find the GPS data on my Strava account, here: Orpington parkrun. That data was then converted into a video using the #relive app on my phone. You can view that here: Relive course fly-by. Although I had enjoyed my original visit back in 2012 I hadn't been sufficiently motivated to head back over, but upon revisiting I must say that I have a renewed appreciation for the course and the park.

An interesting fact about Orpington parkrun is that up until the point of this post, they have apparently never had to cancel, which makes it a good venue to keep in mind during the winter when cancellations are rife. However...

around the finish

... on the flipside of that information, it was announced at the start that the event's very first cancellation would be happening a few weeks later (to make way for the inaugural Mini-Soccer pre-season tournament, which may become an annual event), one week before their 6th anniversary, which incidentally falls on the 15 September - the exact same date as the inaugural.

Related links:



Sunday, 29 July 2018

Foots Cray Meadows parkrun

With 240 acres of parkland and woodland, Foots Cray Meadows is the largest open public space in the London Borough of Bexley. It spans both banks of the River Cray as it weaves its way through both Foots Cray and North Cray. The area is also a Local Nature Reserve and a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation.

foots cray meadows

Foots Cray itself is largely industrial with the biggest name company to have a factory here being Coca Cola. The area takes its name from a Saxon landowner, Godwin Fot, who held the Kentish Manor here during the reign of Edward the Confessor. The Cray part comes from the river.

The Cray Valley, as it is sometimes called, was a popular place for 'gentlemen's retreats' during the 18th century and two of these originally occupied land that now forms the park. Firstly there was Foots Cray Place which featured a palladian mansion, this replaced an earlier estate called Pike Place whose centrepiece was an Elizabethan E-shaped house.

briefing / start

On the North Cray side there was North Cray Place whose grounds were landscaped by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown in c.1780 and some of his work can still be seen as you will find out below. The most recent house dating from 1760 is still standing. Once known as Woollett Hall it is now called Loring Hall - interestingly, in 1822 the Foreign Secretary Viscount Castlereigh, who owned the house at this time, commited suicide here.

Anyway, we were here for Foots Cray Meadows parkrun which started in July 2018. Had I been here alone, I would have cycled or ran the 6km from home. Alternatively, I would have taken the train to Albany Park station and walked the rest of the way. Incidentally I quite often alight the train at Albany Park on my way home from work and run the rest of the way home (those that follow me on Strava will sometimes spot entries named AYP-DFD).

five arch bridge

On this particular day, all four of us had decided to take part so we jumped in the car and headed to Woollett Hall Farm which is where the official car park and toilets are. I would advise checking the course page for comprehensive driving directions as those unfamiliar with the area could be caught out otherwise (hint: there's a dual carriageway which requires you to do a u-turn if you are approaching from Bexley Village).

On the subject of the farm, it's worth pointing out that there is a campsite here and showers are available at the cost of £1 for 10 minutes. From the farm there is a 5-10 minute walk to get into the park, so make sure to leave plenty of time to find your way along the country lane and footpaths that lead across the river and into the park.

the meadows

Once in the park, you will spot the playground and then the huddle of fellow participants and the hi-vis jackets of the volunteers. The run briefing takes place on the open grass area which is known as Royal Park, and following that the crowd gather on the spacious start line. The course consists of an 'out' section, followed by a large loop, then a small loop, before heading back towards the playground.

Underfoot is mostly grass, and despite the ground having a few uneven spots, buggy runners would generally be ok here. However, it is worth noting that the park is used for one of the Kent Cross Country League races, so expect a softer, or even muddy, surface during the winter. Road shoes will easily see you through the summer, but trail shoes would be the better option during the winter.

the meadows

With the run underway, the course heads in a south-westerly direction across the open grass before picking up a more defined dirt path that leads onto North Cray Meadows. Interestingly, although the whole area is called Foots Cray Meadows, each part still retain its own historic name. Continuing in the same direction, the route passes Lancelot 'Capability' Brown's stunning 'Five Arch Bridge'. The course is basically flat, but there is the slightest rise in elevation when heading towards the southern and western end.

Before long the course arrives at the southern end of the park and passes through Wet Meadow while the participants head straight towards the spire of All Saints Church in the distance. Now on Foots Cray Lawns, the route now turns to the north and follows the edge of Chestnut Avenue. This section requires some self-discipline as the course now hugs the side of the avenue of trees towards cones in the far corner. However a few of the participants in front of us clearly, but maybe not intentionally, cut a huge chunk off the course by heading straight across the grass.

through the ancient woodland

After weaving around a little more, the course enters North Cray Woods which are officially listed as Ancient Woodland. They can be traced back until at least the 12th century, and may even pre-date the Domesday Book of 1086. Underfoot up to this point had been grassy, but changed in the woods to softer dirt and then to an ever-so-slightly downhill, gravelly avenue which leads back towards North Cray Meadows. This completes the large loop and a smooth tarmac path leads back in the direction of the bridge where the smaller loop begins.

The smaller loop cuts off most of the southern end of the course by taking participants along Lime Avenue - this leads through the central area of Foots Cray Lawns, and at the end, the course heads back through the ancient woodland. Upon reaching the tarmac path for a second time, the route now heads straight across and right through North Cray Meadows where you'll find wildflowers growing on either side of the mown grass path.

the meadows

Before you know it, you have rejoined the original 'out' section and it's just a simple case of following this back onto the open grass fields of Royal Park. The finish funnel team will be awaiting your arrival at the finish with the barcode scanners in position just beyond. Once all of the day's participants have completed the course the focus of the event moves back to Woollett Hall Farm, or more specifically, to Kelsey's Farm Shop which is where the post-run social gathering takes place.

After sampling the veggie sausage rolls and chocolate brownie, I popped into the farm shop to buy a Five Arches summer ale (very fitting, I thought) which was brewed locally at Bexley Brewery - if you fancy doing the same you may have to visit during summer as it is part of their four seasons range and may not be available all year round.

the meadows / finish

Our visit had almost come to an end, but as I was taking some photos of the thousands of sweetcorn storks that were growing in the farmer's fields, I recognised a familiar voice behind me saying 'with me now...',

It turned out to be Danny Norman who has just 'got the old band back together' (the rest of the band being Nicola Forwood of course) and launched a brand new unofficial podcast all about our favourite Saturday morning pastime. You can follow the podcast on Facebook or Twitter, plus the link to the show is in the update below.

Update: Click here to listen to With Me Now, episode 3 - 'Poodos'. It can also be found on itunes. Also, it transpires that Danny didn't actually say 'with me now', so it seems that I was distracted by the sweetcorn crops and wasn't actually paying attention!

post-run at the farm

The results for event two were published pretty quickly after the run and 146 people had taken part. I had recorded the course with my Garmin and the GPS data can be viewed on my Strava account. You'll also find a Relive course fly-by video on my youtube page. We came away having thoroughly enjoyed our visit and it's certainly local enough to swing by for a return visit in the future.

Related links:




Sunday, 22 July 2018

Letchworth parkrun

In the north of Hertfordshire right next to the border with Bedfordshire you will find the world's first Garden City. I am of course talking about Letchworth, or to give it its full name, Letchworth Garden City. The town was founded in 1903 by social reformer Ebenezer Howard and now has a population of around 33,000 people.

letchworth garden city

The garden city movement's principals were based around combining the advantages of cities and countryside while eliminating their disadvantages. The town is famous for having the UK's first roundabout, formally known as Sollershott Circus. It also has the UK's largest colony of black squirrels which are grey squirrels with melanism (the development of the pigment melanin - it is the opposite of albinism).

I visited on 21 July 2018 to take part in Letchworth parkrun which is based at The Grange recreation ground at the northern tip of the town. The recreation ground is essentially a large rectangular open space which features 6 football pitches, playground, basketball court, skate park and a pavilion (with toilet). There is also a free, onsite car park which also has a bicycle rack. If this fills up, the adjacent roads can be used.

the grange / run briefing

Letchworth has a train station and this is right in the centre of town so if using this method of travel you'll need to leave enough time to walk/run over to the venue. Incidentally the movie The World's End was mostly filmed in Letchworth and the railway station building was used as one of the pubs central to the movie's plot.

Anyway, back to the parkrun. Once within the recreation ground the parkrun team should be easy to spot right in the centre of the rec where the finish line is located. As the time approaches 9am, the participants slowly start to gather and the briefings take place over near the skate park which gives a raised platform for the run director to address the crowd.

start and opening stretch

If you're sitting there thinking that the description I've given of the rec so far sounds a little dull for a parkrun, don't fear! The majority of the run takes place through the adjacent farmland, and that is where everyone heads to straight after the briefing.

Once in place at the start, the run director gives the signal and the Saturday morning 5k run, jog or walk is underway.

just reaching the northern tip

This parkrun takes place on a just-under-two-lap clockwise course. Underfoot is a mixture of surfaces, grass, gravel, and notably, farm tracks which I was reliably informed turn into a mud bath during the winter, so trail shoes would make life a little easier. However I visited during the longest rain-free spell we've had for years and the ground was baked solid, so I went for my regular road shoes.

From the start, the participants head north on a fairly decent gravelly path and turn to the right shortly after to weave their way through to the mostly northerly point of the course while heading ever-so-gently downhill. So far the underfoot conditions were gravelly with a few uneven parts to look out for.

heading up the incline

At the northern tip of the course, the route turns to head southwards along a proper farm track, and this is where you are faced with a long, steady incline which lasts for 900 metres. It rises approximately 21 metres from bottom to top.

The solid earth was made all the more treacherous by the baked tractor tyre indentations which meant eyes were firmly fixed on the ground. However a quick glance up every now and then revealed the lovely views across the fields of golden wheat swaying gently in the light breeze.

reaching the southern tip

The course reaches its highest point at the southern tip of the course and the rest of the route essentially heads downhill, but at such a small gradient that I thought I was just running on the flat. Underfoot is back a light gravel as the path heads back towards the recreation ground.

Most of the paths are long straights, but the end of this one features a chicane followed by a bicycle width restriction at the entrance to the rec.

heading back towards the recreation ground

With grass underfoot for a short section, the route now heads for the avenue of trees at the north of the rec and this features a pleasant, slightly meandery dirt-track path which heads through a couple of enclosed bushy sections.

About half-way along you'll note the section that peels off to the finish, but for now the full length of the avenue is run, and a right hand turn at the end links back into the start area where a second lap begins.

avenue of trees

Upon reaching the avenue at the end of lap two, all you need to do is peel off at the appropriate point. The two runners in front of me peeled off too early and I naturally started to follow them until I realised what they had done.

I returned to the correct path a headed to the finish when directed. With that done and barcodes scanned, it was time to have a chat to some marshals and then make a move. I did consider stopping at Norton Common to see if I could catch a glimpse of one of those black squirrels, but I couldn't find anywhere to park so carried on back home.

around the finish

According to the official course webpage, the post-run refreshments are courtesy of a portable coffee van, but I didn't see it there on the day I visited. The official results were soon processed and I received my SMS as always. For any who is interested in the details of the course, you can take a peak at my GPS data on Strava. There's also a course fly-by video which I generated using the Relive app on my phone.

Related links:

Sunday, 15 July 2018

South Woodham Ferrers parkrun

South Woodham Ferrers is a town in Essex with a population of around 17,000 people. The name is likely to have come, in part, from the Norman Knight De Ferrers who was granted the land in this part of Essex as recognition of his role in the Norman Conquest. It was named South Woodham Ferrers to distinguish itself from the village, Woodham Ferrers, which lies a mile to the north.

south woodham ferrers

It was the arrival of the railway in 1889 that triggered the first phase of growth in the town, which until then had been farmland. Soon after this, much of the unproductive farmland was divided into plots and offered for sale which people bought and many self-built buildings soon appeared.

The town really took shape from the 1960s when the larger housing developments began to be established. This accelerated in the 1970s when Essex County Council used compulsory purchase orders to re-develop the old farmland plots into modern housing, a main town centre shopping area, new schools and areas for employment.

briefings

I have visited South Woodham Ferrers once before (incidentally, on the way home from Burnham-on-Crouch parkrun), and this was to have a look at a special set of residential streets in the south-west corner of the town which take their names from the works of J.R.Tolkien. Gandalf's Ride, Hobbiton Hill, Thorin's Gate, and Gimli Watch are just a few of the roads you'll find here.

To the south of the town you will find Marsh Farm Animal Adventure Park and Marsh Farm Country Park. The two are adjacent but operate as separate entities. The majority of the original Marsh Farm was part of the land that was purchased by the council in the 1970s, the remainder of the farm is now open to the public.

out along the river

The country park is nestled between three waterways - The River Crouch, Clementsgreen Creek, and Fenn Creek. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which covers 300 acres of grazing marshland that provides home to an abundance of wildlife including water voles and many species of wading birds. The park became home to South Woodham Ferrers parkrun on 10 March 2018.

On 14 July 2018 we drove over to the country park to take part in event 18 of the parkrun. We parked in the free car park at the animal adventure park as advised on the official course page. The adventure park houses the toilets and the post-run café, so I popped in to use the facilities before heading off to find the start area. Travel by train is possible via South Woodham Ferrers Station, which is 2km away in the centre of the town.

through the country park

The run itself starts in the country park car park adjacent to the River Crouch (not the one you are advised to park in) and takes place over a flat, 1 lap clockwise course which is has elements of an out-and-back.

Underfoot you will find a mixture of concrete, grass and dirt paths which are likely to be dry and dusty in summer but potentially wet and splashy in place during the winter. Road shoes were fine when I attended but trail might come in handy in the winter. The event currently attracts around 100 participants each week.

alongside clementsgreen creek

So, from the car park the route heads eastwards with the river to the right as it passes the South Woodham Ferrers Yacht Club, with the participants taking the grassy path when directed to by the marshal and arrow. After 700 metres the route leaves the riverside and heads inland towards the rear of the animal adventure park. The adjacent fields are all used as farmland so if you're lucky you should spot sheep and horses around here.

the lower and upper paths next to the creek

The path soon turns to concrete and the participants follow it as it passes the grazing fields. At the most northern point of the course, underfoot changes back to stones/dirt/grass and the path shoots up a short, sharp incline and bears to the right where it meets Clementsgreen Creek for an out-and-back section.

Travelling along the upper path, the course winds its way along the edge of the creek all the way round to the end of the path where a marshal is on hand to direct participants down a short, sharp decline and everyone then heads back along the lower path.

heading back to the riverside path

The country park is beautiful and peaceful, and I even spotted a few swans hanging out in one of the ponds. Once the out-and-back section is complete, the participants are directed to the south along a grass path that leads all the way down to the river where again the path heads up a short, sharp incline up onto the sea wall.

The final stretch takes place along the gravelly riverside path and this leads all the way back past the yacht club and into the car park where the finish line can be found. Barcode scanning takes place adjacent to the finish line and when all the participants have returned, the team head over to the post-run cafe 'Tillie's' at the animal adventure park.

returning along the river path with a great view of the farmer ploughing a field

We also went to the cafe, but when we arrived at 10.30am it was open but unstaffed. Even when someone came along to serve us, there weren't any breakfast options available. We had a tea each and I grabbed some crisps from the counter.

Despite its setting in a lovely, old, 19th century timber framed barn, it was pretty a disappointing experience, and sadly there were only two other people from parkrun there. So we finished up and went to have another browse around the Tolkien-themed streets in the town.

the end and finish

The parkrun however had been fantastic - for a change, my daughter and wife (with 12 week old baby) also took part marking our son's first time going round a parkrun course. The country park is scenic, the river looked amazing and the volunteers were all fabulous.

As always I had recorded the run on my Garmin and you can see the course profile etc on my Strava page. There's also a course fly-by video which I created with the Relive app on my phone which can be found on youtube.

Related links:






Sunday, 24 June 2018

Ultm8 Warrior (Vigo) 2018

The Ultm8 Warrior children's obstacle challenge series is a favourite of my daughter's and 2018 marked the third consecutive year she had taken part in this event / location. We had entered online via the Eventbrite app for a fee of £10, and just like the year before, she had decided to go for the 2 lap option.


The course was laid out a pretty much the same design as it was for the 2017 event. This featured four out and backs which lead the children away and back to the main obstacle area just in front of the rugby clubhouse. This works very well as it helps to spread the kids out and gives the parents an up close view of their kids doing the obstacles.

We did of course slap on a bit of the warrior face paint before getting started, which the organisers have available at the main HQ gazebo. 


The obstacles themselves were all the same as previous years with the addition of one new challenge which involved a rope climb over an inflatable obstacle - this was without doubt the most challenging of the obstacles, but no too hard to make it impossible.

The rest was business as usual which included a rope-net crawl, ups-and-overs, a spider's web net, a long crawl through a tunnel, the big rope climb, a slip and slide, and the sponge throw - this is where I got to throw wet sponges at her while she hid behind a warrior shield!


With the two laps complete, she collected her green Year of the Viking themed medal and told me tales of her journey around the mighty course of obstacles. We'd had a great morning out and the time had now come to hit the road back home.
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